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How five off-seasons got the Arizona Diamondbacks in a hole, and how to get out of it

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A look at the success and failures from the Diamondbacks in the last five seasons and how they can learn from it to build a successful club in the future.

We take a flash back to the Diamondbacks after a strong 2011 season led to them being unlikely division winners, the team managed to slowly spiral its way back down to the laughing stock of the league. Along the way there were some successes and failures, a lot more failures than successes obviously, but there are things to take away from each.

Strong drafting led to a strong farm, bad trades can deplete a farm quickly

This is both a success and failure on the team’s part. Since 2011, the best player from the draft has been 3B Jake Lamb, who I think is one of the game’s best young players. Aside from that, they have had any notable hits with Archie Bradley and Jake Barrett flashing potential in 2016, but no consistency whatsoever. From 2011-2016, the Diamondbacks have only two first rounders still on the team. Trevor Bauer was traded after his immaturity irked too many people in the organization, Bradley’s stuff is diminished from the days he was one of the game’s elite prospects, Stryker Trahan never got past A ball, Shipley’s stuff looks unimpressive, while Aaron Blair, Touki Toussaint, and Dansby Swanson are all in the Braves organization due to two horrific trades done by Dave Stewart.

The key to developing a sustained winner, even at lower payrolls, is to have a continuous pipeline of talent flowing to the major league club. The Diamondbacks have done a decent job of developing players with Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin Adam Eaton, AJ Pollock, Jake Lamb, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury coming through the minor league system. The team will have a Top 10 pick in the draft, with that player most likely surpassing LHP Anthony Banda as the top prospect in the organization. The Diamondbacks need to operate not under the assumption that prospects are simply player acquisition currency, but also potential contributors for their team in the future. The key will be separating the top-end talent from the also-rans and holding onto them.

Depth is key, lack of depth is fatal

One of the main failures of both the Towers and Stewart eras was the lack of quality depth. A lot of that depth comes in the form of top prospects, but they’ve had little luck with minor league signings. That’s part of the reason why Mike Hazen went crazy with the minor league signings in both the bullpen and the outfield, signing players with unique skill sets because the team lacks the prospect talent. It’s the difference why teams like the Giants can survive multiple injuries to key players and make the postseason vs. the Dbacks who are always one injury away between middle of the pack to down in the dumps.

What made the 2011 team different was the team was mostly healthy, got some unlikely contributors, and one of their top prospects gave the team a critical boost down the stretch. The team needs to be able to develop players from the draft and the international market. The team has the majority of its core under control for two more seasons, although that’s not enough time to restock a barren farm system. I’m not advocating for a complete tear down rebuild either, as there’s no reason to trade Paul Goldschmidt unless the goal is the #1 pick in the 2018 draft. I can’t say for certain that Pollock, Goldy, Peralta, Lamb, etc will be injury free in 2017, which is why the lack of depth could hurt the team if one of them goes down.

Don’t undervalue defense, especially in the outfield

The 2011 team was successful because of strong defense. The 2013 and 2015 Dbacks were also strong defensive teams, although both teams were felled because of a poor bullpen and an inconsistent starting rotation in each case. The reason why the 2014 team failed is because Towers traded defense and speed for Trumbombs, and the man missed half the season. 2016, the team was fielding an outfield of Brandon Drury, Michael Bourn, and Yasmany Tomas for most of the year. It’s no coincidence the worst two years since 2011 were the worst two outfield defenses. That pattern likely holds even outside of the 2011-2016 time frame as well.

The Diamondbacks need to add more athleticism in the outfield, with AJ Pollock and David Peralta both turning 30 this calendar year. The team lacks any impact outfield prospect in the entire system that can contribute in the next two seasons, so that’s going to be a problem. The team had one of the best young outfielders in the game in Ender Inciarte in 2015 and sent him to the Braves in the same deal that included Blair and Swanson. That trade may go down in the Richie Sexson category of bad trades when all is said and done because it wound up crippling the franchise for the next five seasons.

Conclusions

I’m pretty sure the current regime has a pretty good idea on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the Diamondbacks. The three main points I outlined are the blueprint to sustained success. The front office needs to do a good job at identifying amateur talent, develop them, and turn them into contributors for the club. When it comes to a Top 30 list, I expect maybe 10 of them to actually reach their ceiling at most. That talent serves as both depth for the club in case of injuries and a potential trade chip to acquire that last piece to a contending club. However, the team needs to figure out which guys are less likely to reach their ceiling and get the best value possible out of them.

The composition of the club needs to account for the environmental factors of their own park as well as the competition. The Dbacks play in a division noted for large outfields, which means a strong outfield defense is not a luxury, but a requirement to competing. When it comes to marginal cost, I will trade bat for glove so long as the difference in bat is less than the difference in glove. While the adage is “You can’t win if you can’t score”, you also can’t win when your outfield defense is converting less 50-50 balls and putting more stress on the offense to score. The team has a Gold Glover in CF and an average defender in RF, but as I said earlier, both will be 30 this calendar year. The team doesn’t have many long term options in the outfield and no prospect depth to fill out future holes.

That doesn’t automatically assume that the team is in no shape to compete for 2017. The odds are very low, but it’s possible that everything clicks and the team somehow manages to get into the playoffs. There is still a good amount of talent on the club, as I mentioned near the top of the article, and the team is taking a more analytical approach to the game than they have in year’s past. The current regime needs to look at the last five years of what went wrong for the team and not make the same mistakes. The organization has seen too much quality talent leave and that needs to change.